As we near the dawn of the Advent season in the Christian calendar, a parallel season of preparation consumes the Church in South Sudan. On January 9, 2011, the people of South Sudan are set to vote on choosing between remaining united with the North as one country, or declaring independence and the right to self-determination. The vote comes towards the end of a five-year ceasefire agreement that saw the end to a brutal 22-year war between the mainly Muslim North and the Christian South.
Earlier this week, my colleague Janette O’Neill and I were participants in an intense multi-day symposium hosted in Juba by the Episcopal Church of Sudan. The gathering was designed to consider the role of the Church in the next many months. Church leaders, along with international partners, discussed the plans for peace-building workshops and civic-education seminars before the January 9 referendum, as well as for plotting the way forward given a number of different scenarios following the referendum results.
Probable scenarios in January include widespread insecurity and mass movement of internally displaced persons (IDPs), projected to be at least 800,000. As the Church is a critical provider of social services, a strategic disaster response plan was developed to prepare for the provision of emergency food, shelter and health disaster relief services—particularly important as many expect that relief and development agencies will leave the country if there is extensive violence and political instability.
The Church of Sudan will never leave its community and remains deeply committed to standing in solidarity with those in peril.
I was at many times stirred by some of the gloomier scenarios—but also profoundly encouraged by the resolve of the Church to meet any eventuality, and inspired by the genuine concern and proactive planning demonstrated by the Church leadership.
It was a week well spent in Sudan, and Episcopal Relief & Development will always be ready to support our friends in the Episcopal Church of Sudan in their response to any emergency needs.
Nagulan Nesiah is an International Program Officer. To view Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s video statement and letter calling for a Season of Prayer for Sudan, please click here.